LAHAINA - It was an electric Thanksgiving weekend for the Lahainaluna High School football program, as the Lunas traveled to Honolulu to meet the Iolani Raiders in the 2012 First Hawaiian Bank Hawaii High School Athletic Association State Division II Championship playoff final at Aloha Stadium last Friday night.
The high-voltage events began before the Luna team even boarded the plane to Honolulu, as a stirring sendoff from the campus bus stop at the top of Lahainaluna Road and on down the hill to Honoapiilani Highway included a police and fire truck escort with flashing lights and blaring horns celebrating another championship run for the West Side Red Tide.
The Luna faithful lined the street with banners flying and cheers piercing the holiday evening. The players rose out of their seats to acknowledge the community support. One coach called it "an outpouring that was one of the genuine chicken-skin moments of our lives - the kids were really thrilled to receive this kind of support. And the beautiful thing is, Lahainaluna teams - not only the football team - always get this from the community."
In a thrilling game on Friday night, the Lahainaluna High School football team faced off with the Iolani Raiders in the 2012 First Hawaiian Bank Hawaii High School Athletic Association State Division II Championship game at Aloha Stadium. Iolani won the contest 36-33. PHOTO BY DENTON JOHNSON.
Then it was on to Honolulu, where the team was greeted by more electric excitement: an unstable weather pattern over the islands produced lightning strikes that split the afternoon skies to sound bursts of thunder and dumped hailstones on the Aloha Stadium turf. After a 20-minute delay, it was game on; but the electric action was just beginning.
In regard to tradition and discipline, the Lahainaluna and Iolani football programs are mirror images of one another. But that's where the similarities end, as the Raiders are the big city, private school in contrast to the Lunas, the outer island, rural boarding campus.
Iolani favors the passing game; Lahainaluna relies on tough defense and the running game to win. And in 2007, in this exact same setting, Iolani defeated Lahainaluna 28-21 to take the first of what would string out to be six consecutive D-II titles.
As would be expected, Iolani struck quickly through the air with two lightning strikes to take a 15-0 lead in the first quarter. The Lunas settled down after that, however, and began to grind away on both sides of the ball with their option running game and rock solid defense to close to within one, 15-14, with a minute to play in the first half. The Raiders then hit a long pass to the Luna two-yard line and scored to take a 22-14 lead into the locker room at the half.
The Lunas closed the gap to 22-20 in the third quarter, as their offensive line - center Connor "Steeler" Mowat, guards Lovai Hong and Connor Rosen St. John, and tackles J.T. Kaleikini-Valmoja and Justin Hong - began to gash the Raiders' defensive front seven, and running backs Jared Rocha-Isalas, Christian Whitehead and Semisi Filikitonga simply would not go down on first contact at the second level after bursting through gaping holes in the Raiders' defensive front.
Lahainaluna would finish the game with over 400 rushing yards and 540 yards of total offense in the game.
Iolani struck quickly again to stretch their lead to 29-20 going into the fourth quarter. Here, the Luna defense stood up - as it has all season - with Hercules Mata'afa, Josh Coston, Samiuela Filiai and Mowat along the D-line; linebackers Bronson Kaina, Brandon Kaina and Semisi Filitonga; corners Scotty Medeiros-Tongatailoa and Mark Alamon; and safeties Tytus Lucas, Jared Purdy and Kiko "Shoyu" Kohler-Fonohema pressuring the high-powered Raider offense all over the field.
The Luna offense took over, led by sophomore sensation Sione Filikitonga and Kohler-Fonohema at quarterback, to score two quick touchdowns to take their first lead of the game at 33-29 halfway through the fourth quarter.
With a minute-and-a-half to play, however, Iolani struck again with a 26-yard scoring pass, after the Lunas had appeared to have sealed the game with an interception of a hurried pass by the Raider quarterback.
But an Iolani player made what is being called "the championship play" by stripping the ball that led to a Raider recovery.
With less than a minute to play, the Lunas still had a chance to tie the game with a field goal and drove to the Iolani 31-yard line before being intercepted to end the contest at 36-33 in favor of the Raiders.
It was, no doubt about it, the most exciting HHSAA championship football final - at either the D-I or D-II level - in recent memory.
With many of these student-athletes set to return for another run at a state championship, optimism reigns here on the West Side.
The spirit of integrity has been steeled; the winning tradition has been forged by seniors Tytus Lucas, John John Lacuesta, Mark Alamon, Samiuela Filiai, Asi Fatongia, Joshua Coston, Christian Cardenas-Ayala, Christian Portugal, Darren Recaido, Kele Balagso, Semisi Filikitonga, Reece Sinenci and Lovai Hong.
Now, it is up to the juniors and sophomores of Luna football 2012 to pay forward what these departing leaders have given them. Imua Lahainaluna!